“The Last Play at Shea” brings music, baseball together

One of Billy Joel’s most famous songs is “New York State of Mind,” a sentiment that couldn’t possibly have been more fitting for the documentary The Last Play at Shea.

Airing tonight on Showtime (9:30pm ET), The Last Play at Shea — narrated by Alec Baldwin — merges a nostalgic look at the historic stadium with live concert footage by Joel. The structure was demolished not too long after the documentary was filmed.

Ask one New Yorker what Shea meant to them, and they will tell you that it was the home of the New York Mets. Ask another, and they will go into detail about how the Beatles played there in 1964. Others won’t talk about the events that took place there but rather the sense of pride it created for the residents of Queens to have their own venue.

“Being the last act to play at Shea is mind-boggling,” said Joel, a Long Island native and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “We’re playing as fans. The Last Play at Shea is about my career, the Mets’ career, the lifeline of Shea Stadium itself, and the story of that part of New York City.”

Joel breaks out many of his classic hits, including “Only the Good Die Young,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and, of course, “Piano Man.” He is also joined on stage by fellow musicians Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, John Mayer and Roger Daltrey (and one guest who can’t be mentioned here for fear of ruining the big finale).

“Shea was the rock and roll venue,” Joel explained. “The Police played there, Springsteen played there, Elton (John) I think played at Shea, the Who.”

But as great as all of those groups were, it was the appearance by the Beatles at Shea in 1964 that took New York, the country and the world by storm.

“I know nothing about about baseball, so Shea was never this baseball legend,” said Sting, former lead singer of the Police. “It was where the Beatles played.”

Even Paul McCartney of the Beatles admits in the documentary that he and his fellow bandmates had no idea what they were getting into that day: “Nobody had every played a big stadium. We were just at the right time, particularly for America.”

It seems fitting that a kid who grew up in New York would be the last musician to perform at Shea. And that sentiment is not lost on Joel, who referenced that historic Beatles concert as a pivotal moment in his life and career.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be in music, I loved rock and roll,” he recalled. “And then when I saw the Beatles, who wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, went around the world … that’s it, that’s what I want to do.”